The notion of 'agonism' refers to a positive appreciation of strife. This idea was integral to the tragic vision characteristic of Hellenism, and has resurfaced in contemporary democratic theory. Advocates of agonistic democracy typically insist on a conception of democracy as open ended contest, and this contrasts - for example - to deliberative theories that model the democratic process on idealised conceptions of rational communication orientated towards consensus. Is the agonistic vision compatible with a normative conception of politics? How does agonism relate to questions of freedom, and what are the connections between contemporary renditions of agonistic democracy and republican notions of liberty as non-domination? Does agonistic contest take place exclusively within liberal democratic institutions, or do we need to configure agonism as contest between alternative political regimes? The work of Gulshan Khan and Mark Wenman explores these and related questions.
Can deliberative procedures improve the quality of democratic decision-making? Do democratic outcomes represent the views of the 'rationally ignorant' or even the 'rationally irrational?' Or do such views represent an underestimation of the epistemic potential of democratic decision making? Are there deliberative procedures that are feasible for application to mass democracies? What is the empirical evidence for the view that deliberative mechanism can change agents' views and make consensual outcomes more likely? Are the justificatory norms associated with deliberative democracy feasible and desirable? Please contact Mathew Humphrey if you are interested in working in this area of research.
Processes of globalisation are increasingly generating planetary interdependence in core areas, such as trade, security, and monetary and environmental regulation. These developments have undermined the capacity of national governments to exercise sovereignty over their territory, and one dominant response to these changes has been the emergence of a variety of arguments for 'cosmopolitan democracy'. Taking their inspiration from Kant's 18th century conception of political Enlightenment as steady progress towards a system of federalism based on principles of right: many contemporary theorists advocate the reform of international institutions to ensure effective global governance and to strengthen the international human rights regime. Is this the most appropriate political response to the processes of globalisation? How feasible are these ideas in the context of the extreme inequalities that exist between citizens in different regions in the world? Should we explore more radical conceptions of cosmopolitanism, which are not predicted on the idea of individual rights? Mark Wenman's research is concerned with these and related questions.
Democracy and Direct Action
Are protestors in democracies ever justified in breaking the law? What kinds of justificatory arguments might apply to direct action protests? Should such protests be governed by overarching ethical principles such as a commitment to non-violence, or it is possible that the ends pursued may justify more radical means under certain circumstances? What, anyway, does 'violent' protest consist in and does this include attacks on property? Can we draw a clear distinction between civil disobedience and protest that breaks the bonds of civility? What is the normative import of this distinction? Mathew Humphrey's current research is concerned with questions of this sort.